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Dust by Dusti Bowling 

Riveting and realistic story with elements of fantasy, probing serious topics, and all too possible situations middle-grade students may encounter. 

Dust by Dusti Bowling is a riveting tale of four middle-graders navigating a toxic school environment with rampant and unrelenting bullying. Targeted because they stand out as different in some way, three have been friends since starting school together. But when the new kid, Adam, catches the eyes of the mean kids, those most responsible for the bullying, they try to bring him into their group: safety in numbers, right? 

The story is told from the point of view of Avalyn, who suffers from severe asthma and whose struggle hits crisis level when dust storms begin to batter their small hometown. She loves her best friends, Dillon and Nan, but knows her disease affects them, too: always having to accommodate for her health and safety. She is genuinely aware and grateful for their modifications but is frustrated all the same. 

Nan and Dillon have their own struggles, with Dillon drawing the ire of the Meanie Butt Band first and Nan and Avalyn more so by association with him. The constant harassment these children endure is shocking and heartbreaking. But their situation is not new; it's been going on for a long time. Adam's arrival on campus provides the mean kids with another vulnerable target. I was surprised that Nan and Dillon were reluctant to include him in their small group. Avalyn, on the other hand, can sense his pain and loneliness, and he represents a mystery she needs to solve. 

As the dust storms continued to batter the town, the tension built, and so did the severity of the harassment. I knew any minute that something awful was going to happen. When it does, Avalyn must work through her natural doubts and fears to take action and make her voice heard. 

Bullying at schools is ongoing and real for many children. The situation in the story had taken on a life of its own and became part of the school's culture. Adam's home situation is not a singular one, and if a reader learns anything from their reading of this book, please let it be that circumstances like Adam's are never the fault of the victim, the child. The story could serve as a jumping-off point for children and adults to discuss the serious topics involved. 

I recommend DUST to middle-grade readers and adults who work with or parent this age group. 

I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from the author or publisher through TBR and Beyond Book Tours.

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